"Run-of-the-mill" seems like a modestly accurate way to describe myself in terms of horror fandom. In certain respects I find that valuable, since ideally I can make an appeal to those like myself, to those who may be testing the waters, and hopefully to the hardcore horror fans as well. (And I sincerely encourage feedback, especially from the latter.) It wasn't until several years ago, the present time of this writing being December of '09 to give perspective, that the genre genuinely appealed to me and I owe all that to the film adaptation of Stephen King's 'IT'. After that, it was a slow and steady progression that grew into watching more Stephen King film adaptations, then into watching general horror films. In more recent years it's branched from solely films into different mediums, namely: comics (comic books, manga, graphic novels, webcomics, etc.), purely written literature, and different games.

But let's get to the point, shall we? The Darkley Niche is something I've constructed after the comic-in-progress that a friend and myself plan on self-publishing, an anthology of short horror stories much in the same vein as 'Tales from the Crypt' and similar titles. The series centers around a faceless persona we've affectionately dubbed Alan Darkley, the Niche's namesake, and a cast of storytellers whose tales fall within particular subgenres and sister genres of horror. This site is the drawing board, if you will, where everything posted is either a form of research or a roughing out of ideas. It's all relevant in some fashion. By exploring these different horror stories and their mediums a better understanding and influence of the genre, as well as inspiration, can be put into the comic. Even if you have no personal interest in the project, perhaps you can glean something from the reviews and the like. And if nothing else, the Niche will work to serve my own purposes.

Be sure to browse over the column of banners below if you're looking for posts on a particular topic. (And at the very bottom of the blog, if you would like to consult the complete listing of post labels.) Otherwise, scroll down past them to get to the most recent articles. Likewise, refer to the right side for our latest tweets.

Meet The Darkley Storytellers

Meet The Darkley Storytellers

About Myself

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Well, here's yours truly. The name's Drew, in case you were wondering. The Niche is my personal site, while the comic-in-progress is a partnered effort with Don, a lifelong friend of mine. We collaborate on the stories, but my partner's the writer in the outfit while I am the illustrator. This is currently little more than a side project, but we hope to make something of it.

artwork by yours truly

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Bloody Valentine (1981)

In the previous Valentine's Day post, I posed the question of which 'My Bloody Valentine' movie would Don and myself watch. It's likely not a real surprise that we opted for the original (1981) first, though we did get partway into the remake (2009) afterward. Perhaps we'll pick up on that later. We have, however, seen several other films since the last review in January, the "double dud" feature. I've simply fallen behind. Expect to see some multiple film features down the road. In the meantime, we're giving this one a solo since it's been so long. (WARNING: spoilers ahead and some gruesome screenshots)

The back story that follows bellow isn't actually revealed until a bit further into the film. However, this seems like a more effective way to write out the review by doing it chronologically, rather than interrupting the flow with flashbacks.

In Valentine's Bluff, the holiday from which the small, rural town gets its namesake has dark undercurrents in the midst of an otherwise cheerful celebration. The Valentine's Day Dance is a hundred-year-old tradition that is anticipated by all the townsfolk. Or at least it was, until the tragedy that took place twenty years ago. Aside from the annual dance, the town's lifeblood is in its coal mines. As it happened, it was the evening of the Valentine's Day Dance when five miners were trapped underground due to a methane gas explosion. The accident was, in fact, negligence on the part of the two supervisors on duty, who had left early before seeing the men safely out or checking the gas levels.

Harry Warden, traumatized

After six weeks of digging, a rescue crew unearthed only one survivor, Harry Warden (Peter Cowper), who managed to stay alive by eating his dead comrades. Needless to say, the trauma drove Warden mad and spent the next year in the state mental hospital. Exactly one year after the mining tragedy, Warden returned to Valentine's Bluff to enact revenge on the supervisors. Their hearts were found at the town union hall, where the dance is held, in a pair of Valentine candy boxes along with a written warning: never hold another Valentine's Day Dance, ever. Since then, Valentine's Bluff has done just that, until now.

supervisors' hearts left at the union hall

Flash forward twenty years later. Two miners separate themselves from the crew down an empty shaft. Alone, one of them is revealed to be a young blond woman after stripping halfway down, exposing her bra and a heart-shaped tattoo on her left breast. The other figure, who we'll refer to as the Miner, remains in full uniform, leaving the mask on as she playfully strokes the breathing tube suggestively. After she guides the Miner's hand to her left breast his hand starts to shake, apparently now just noticing the tattoo. His whole body quakes, grabbing onto her arms, and violently thrusts her against a pickax protruding from the wall behind her, effectively impaling her just above the inked-in heart.

The scene changes, though how much time has lapsed is not revealed, to a crew of miners returning topside as a caption reads that it is Thursday, February 12th. As the men shower we learn that T.J. Hanniger (Paul Kelman, 'Black Roses'), one of the men present, has returned after a long absence from the town and that his old girlfriend, Sarah (Lori Hallier, 'Friday the 13th: the series'), is in a relationship with T.J.'s friend Axel Palmer (Neil Affleck, 'Scanners'). Awkward, to say the least. Regardless, things seem to be "okay" on the surface. Finishing their showers and getting dressed, the men hurry out to drive on over to the union hall, banjo music accompaniment enhancing the haste (as well as hick feeling). Over at the hall, the men meet up with their sweethearts, who are helping to decorate for the upcoming dance.

"Git 'er dun!" or in this case, "Git 'em up!" -- ah, hicks

Meanwhile, Mabel Osborne (Patricia Hamilton, 'Friday the 13th: the series') and Mayor Hanniger (Larry Reynolds, 'Friday the 13th: the series'), T.J.'s father, discuss the reinstatement of Valentine's Bluff's festivities. Mabel, a kindly lady who runs the launderette, is excited about the dance, but Mr. Hanniger is more cautious. Asking that Mabel avoid mentioning that it's been twenty years since the last, you can tell that he's trying to keep the memory of Harry Warden and the murders under wraps. "My thoughts, exactly," she replies, abruptly followed by Howard Landers (Alf Humphreys, 'Final Destination 2'), one of the miners and annoying goofball, scaring the living daylights out of the poor woman with a fake, bloody gash on his head. Way to be a d**k, Howard. But at least he helps Mabel pick up the box that she dropped and its contents. Don pointed out that Howard was reminiscent of lame prankster Shelly from 'Friday the 13th part III', which I had to agree.

Shortly after, Chief Jake Newby (Don Francks, 'Goosebumps' series) also swings by the union hall to check up on the decorating progress, but more specifically to see Mayor Hanniger about a meeting. Before the two get to the chief's truck, Howard catches up to deliver a heart-shaped candy box to Mr. Hanniger. It was already there at the hall before anyone arrived to decorate, but it was addressed to the mayor. Neither Mabel nor Chief Newby confess to leaving the gift when asked, but he is happy to have it, saying, "If there's one thing I like better than Christmas candy, it's Valentine's candy!" But as the mayor and chief drive toward the aforementioned meeting, delight turns to dread when Mr. Hanniger reads aloud the note included with the gift: "From the heart comes a warning filled with bloody good cheer. Remember what happened as the fourteenth draws near." Horrified, Mr. Hanniger looks inside, revealing a human heart lying within.

the mayor's "bloody valentine" -- I would insert a 'Forest Gump' reference, but it seems too hokey

Later, the guys and gals enjoy themselves at a bar called "The Cage", drinking, playing pool, and five-finger fillet. But it's not long before someone decides to rain on their parade. The bartender Happy (Jack Van Evera, 'Black Christmas' 1974), who apparently has a penchant for retelling the tale, describes the Valentine's Day mining tragedy in gruesome detail. As it turns out the bartender had a firsthand experience, relating that it was he himself who had found Harry Warden in the rubble. Perhaps feeling responsible for the murders to follow, it would explain why he seems so bitter (ironic, with a name like "Happy"). Ending the tale, he sternly warns the young miners and women to forget about the party.

With 'Friday the 13th' already in my mind, this doomsayer seemed rather akin to the character of Crazy Ralph (Walt Gorney). Maybe it's just the curse talk.

"You going to Camp Blood, ain't ya? -- It's got a death curse!"

"I'm tellin' ya now! This town is accursed!"

Of course they disregard his warning, adding insult to the bartender when Howard pops up from below the bar and blows a raspberry, causing the patrons to break into a roar of laughter. "Laugh now," rebukes Happy, "but you'll be sorry you didn't listen to me." But they pay him no heed, convinced that Harry Warden is just a "stupid legend" and resume their merrymaking. After singing a rather lewd song about the bar waitress, Sarah exchanges a few words with her ex-boyfriend T.J., which causes him to leave in a huff. Later, T.J. and Axel would meet up again at the town junkyard, another hangout for the young miners, to have a short-lived p***ing contest. Nothing is really resolved, but Axel tells him to stay away from Sandy.

Elsewhere that evening, Mayor Hanniger and Chief Newby exchange some words of their own. Calling the Eastfield Institute, the administrative office is closed and the nurse on duty can't tell them whether or not Henry Warden is in their custody. Soon after the phone call, a coroner enters the room and relates to them that it is, in fact, a human heart; specifically that of a woman in her thirties. This more or less confirms that it belonged to the murdered blond woman from earlier. While they can't say with any certainty, it would seem that Warden has returned to Valentine's Bluff.

Also elsewhere that evening, Mabel happily adds a few more decorations to her launderette and takes care of some leftover laundry, alone. Outside, an ominous figure watches from the windows, breathing heavily with an unnatural sound to it. As Mabel steps into a back room, the figure enters quietly, leaving a heart-shaped box of chocolates on a nearby table, and moves out of view to wait. Mabel walks back in and notices the box lying out in the open. Cheerfully, she opens the gift, not suspecting what it actually means. Like the mayor's there is a card inside, reading: "Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, One is Dead, And so are You!" Right on cue, the lights switch off and Mabel turns to see the murderous Miner, who chases her into a corner and kills with a pickax. Poor Mabel. I honestly felt sorry for her, which is really saying something for a victim in a slasher flick. As far as stupid teenagers and twenty-to-thirty-somethings go, I have no particular sympathy for them, but a sweet lady like Mabel is another matter.

the Miner with pickax raised

The next morning, Friday, Mayor Hanniger and Chief Newby make less headway on the whereabouts of Harry Warden. A lady in administration at Eastfield Institute tells the chief over the phone that there are no records of Warden, meaning that he has either been released, transferred, or "on the slab". This, of course, is unacceptable to the chief. However, she adds that she can check the microfilms, but it will take several days to check them. With this uncertainty about what happened to Harry, Mr. Hanniger seriously considers canceling the Valentine's Day Dance. What puts the nail in the coffin is Mabel's murder, her body having been discovered in one of the launderette driers by Chief Newby after he notices heart decorations turned upside-down and a fowl smell.

Mabel Osborne's scorched corpse with the heart removed

After being notified, Mayor Hanniger suggests that they call in help from Granville, but Chief Newby, ironically, is the one who is more concerned about what the panic would do to Valentine's Bluff. He has the ambulance team go around back to take Mabel's corpse behind the launderette in private and pressures those present to a cover story, that Mabel died from a heart attack. Before letting them leave, Newby notices a heart-shaped card inside the otherwise empty cavity in Mabel's chest and slips it out. Reading it aloud to Hanniger, the Miner warns: "It happened once, it happened twice. Cancel the dance or it happens thrice." Weighing the words seriously, the Mayor instructs Newby to have all the town decorations taken down, as well as enforce a ban on any sort of parties on Valentine's night. (Meanwhile, the turmoil between T.J. and Axel continues to escalate and Sarah's feelings between the two are torn.)

Well, this simply won't do with the young miners and girls. Gathered around a table at The Cage, the friends decide that with the town on party lockdown, the only place to have one would be in the mines. Yeah, great idea guys. Apparently those gas masks weren't sealed on so tight. At least I'd like to think that's why they're all so stupid. And not the brightest thing to talk about in public, especially when the bartender is right within earshot. At least be discreet about your illegal plans. Although I have to say it was rather amusing when he insults Howard right to his face.

Random Friend: "Yeah, in the mine! Where people get killed and eaten."
Howard: "Beware of Harry Warden! ... Woooooo!"
Hollis: "Shut the f**k up!" [directed at Howard]
Happy: "Beware of what you make fun of, you little a**hole."
Howard: "Who?"
Happy: "YOU!"

It was good for a laugh, at least. But even Happy the bartender ignores his sound advice. Deciding rather than tip off Chief Newby about the party, he goes alone to the mines that evening to rig up a dummy dressed as Harry Warden to scare them away. A little inebriated, he plays around with the dummy, which swings a pickax when the lunch room door is opened. On the third time, however, the dummy doesn't swing the pickax. Still, Happy laughs and starts to walk away. Should've kept on walking. However, he is not drunk enough to dismiss it, instead turning around and opens the door again. This time out comes the actual Miner, who swings his pickax upward into the bartender's jaw.

most definitely an "Oh, sh**!" moment

Saturday arrives, bringing along Valentine's Day with it. The day passes by quietly as a few lonely, discarded decorations linger on the deserted streets. As night draws near, the circle of friends drive over to the mines and begin bringing in certain party essentials to the recreation room and kitchen. The festivities kick off as someone puts on some music while others decorate, prepare the food, play a little pool, and, of course, drink beer. Meanwhile at the police station, Chief Newby is given a start when a heart-shaped candy box is left anonymously for him. To his relief, the box only contains ordinary Valentine's chocolates. But it's a bittersweet moment when he reads the card inside, signed by Mabel.

Back at the party, a lesser character, Dave (Carl Marotte, 'Skinwalkers' -- Funny, really, because Chief Newby is on Dave's case and in 'Skinwalkers' Marotte plays as a sheriff.), is murdered in the kitchen by the Miner. How, exactly? By drowning him in a pot of hot dogs and water. As if drowning wasn't bad enough, he has to choke on hot dog water. Moving on, Chief Newby has the sense to drive over to the mines, just as a precaution. Before he leaves the station, however, his attention is diverted to the sound of dogs growling and barking. Outside, Newby finds a few strays circling and lapping at something lying on the sidewalk, a Valentine's candy box with blood pooled around it. Reaching down, the chief picks up a card which states that he did not stop the party. Angered and confused, Newby looks around and yells, "Stop the party... What damn party?!" As for the valentine itself, we can safely assume that there is a heart inside. I would venture to guess that it belonged to the bartender, Happy.

Wait! You said we were just bobbing for hot dogs! *gurgle*

What was only inevitable, T.J. and Axel's rivalry explodes into a brawl between the two. Hollis (Keith Knight, 'Whispers') handles the situation and breaks up the fight, but Axel, hurt more by Sarah's fluctuating feelings, storms out of the room. Likewise, the Miner's blood lust escalates, murdering another twenty-something, Sylvia (Helen Udy, 'Sweet Murder'), but not before frightening her with Happy's corpse hanging from a hook. John (Rob Stein), who was away fetching more beer for his girlfriend, returns to the secluded spot to find Sylvia with her head impaled on a shower nozzle, water and blood flowing intermingled from her mouth. If the friends could use the local authorities, it's now. Unfortunately, just as he pulls up to the entrance gates of the mine, Chief Newby gets radioed in by the police station, learning that the lady from Eastwood is on the phone with urgent news. Making a u-turn, Chief Newby unwittingly leaves the Miner to resume his work.

fetching beer, John completely misses Dave's concealed corpse

Happy's corpse drops in front of Sylvia, dangling on a hook

Worried about Sarah and her man troubles, Patty (Cynthia Dale, 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents') asks her boyfriend Hollis to take them down into the mines for fun. A few others chime in and Hollis, though initially hesitant, lets them convince him. T.J. notices Hollis and five others, including Sarah, leaving. Learning their intentions he tries to stop them, since it is against the rules to take women down. It would make more sense to have a rule set in place for employees only, if you ask me. Hollis, the only miner in the smaller group, assures him that they will only ride the rail carts down and return right back up to the surface. Riiiiight. After all that drinking, can we honestly expect that will happen? On a side note, the music accompaniment that plays while the carts go down into the mines adds a nice touch to the overall atmosphere.

Reaching the bottom, one of the girls points out a tunnel, asking where it leads. Hollis answers that it's an abandoned part of the mine, which they don't go down anymore. Way to set yourself up, Hollis. So of course they want a tour of the tunnel and, same as earlier, Hollis lets them convince him. But it's not too far along their tour that one of the young couples, Mike (Thomas Kovacs) and Harriet (Terry Waterland), decide to split from the small group to have a little private fun of their own. Meanwhile, back topside, Dave's body has been discovered by one of the girls and John soon after stumbles in, stuttering out his own find. Everyone present starts to panic, so Axel ushers them out while T.J. dials for the police. Unfortunately, the lines are down. After everyone else has left, T.J. tells Axel that there are a few others down in the mines. Putting aside their rivalry, the two men hastily don their mining apparel and head underground to rescue them, Sarah specifically.

Down below, Hollis, Slyvia, Patty, and Howard walk back towards the main shaft. Joking about why Mike and Harriet haven't returned yet, they hear the shattering of glass behind them. It startles them slightly, but they pay it no mind. As it so happens, it is the Miner some ways back in the very same tunnel, breaking the electric bulbs that light the pathway. A little later, T.J. catches up and relates to them the murders that have happened topside. However, instead of searching for Mike and Harriet together, T.J. and Hollis split off down opposite directions of the tunnel while Howard waits with the girls. Typical slasher film mistake. Hollis enters the old engine room to find the young couple impaled together by a large drill bit. The Miner emerges from the shadows and plugs a pair of nails into Hollis' head with a nail gun. Hollis, though mortally wounded, manages to stumble out of the engine room and back to the other three before collapsing, dead.

impaled together by a large drill bit

Hollis, murdered -- Doesn't he look an awful lot like Teddy Roosevelt?

In timely fashion, the Miner walks down the tunnel towards the three, effectively scaring off Howard who flees. "Howard, you bastard!" cries Sarah, "You can't leave us like this!" But her plea goes unheeded and leaves Sarah in an awful predicament, prying Patty away from her dead boyfriend all by herself. As the Miner draws closer, however, he cuts off down a side passage. Even with the Miner gone for the moment, Sarah knows that they are still in imminent danger. Patty, understandably, is still in shock and it takes a slap from Sarah to put some sense into her. Axel comes across the two girls and guides them towards the main shaft, dragging along a sobbing Patty most of the way. Nearing a tunnel crossing, Axel spies a spotlight coming from the parallel passage. He swings a piece of lumber at the approaching figure, thinking that it is Harry Warden. Fortunately it is only T.J., who is no worse for the wear.

Earlier, a few friends that fled had found Chief Newby to tell him of the party and murders, so by this time he has now driven back to the mines. Police assistance is on the way, but unfortunately Newby is the only officer on the scene. The rail carts are already underground, as are the elevators, which the chief can't bring back up. Approaching the the elevators at the bottom we see that the control panel has been smashed, likely by the Miner. Instead, they take to the ladder rungs in the elevator shaft and climb upward. Axel takes the lead and during a slip he accidentally pulls a rope, which falls down with Howard, either unconscious or already dead, attached at the end by a noose. A sudden stop in the fall causes the body to decapitate, spraying blood on Patty and Sarah before tumbling again to the bottom.

blood "money shot"

The friends climb down in lieu of continuing their ascent up the ladder to find another way out of the mines. Fortunately, Axel knows of a shortcut to the rail carts. Enclosed in a tight passageway with water up to their knees, Axel waits behind until T.J. gives him the all clear. When T.J. calls, however, his response is a painful grunt, a crack, and a splash. The three hurry back, finding the boarding around a sixty-foot well broken inward and Axel's helmet light sinking down into the cold depths. Knowing that there's nothing that can be done, the three push onward. The girls get separated from T.J. and around a tunnel corner the Miner lunges out, plunging his pickax deep into Patty's abdomen. Sarah retreats and finds a place to hide where she is found by T.J., who was given a crack on the head, earlier.

Above ground, reinforcements have arrived and head into the mines with Chief Newby at the lead. As the police make their way downward, T.J. and Sarah make it to the rail carts with the Miner hot on their heels. The carts start their ascent and the two hop on, but not before the Miner manages to hitch himself onto the last cart. T.J. and Sarah move forward, climbing cart over cart, as the murderer follows and gets within reach. T.J. fends the Miner off with a shovel, then tackles the assailant when his makeshift shield is lost. Sarah jumps off the rail cart after them to give T.J. the shovel and a fighting chance. Forcing them back down the main shaft, T.J. and Sarah duck into a side passage, a ventilation shaft, with a board across the entrance, labeled: "DANGER KEEP OUT". That can't be good. Regardless, the Miner pursues them in.

the Miner closes in on Sarah and T.J.

Haphazardly swinging his pickax around, the Miner lodges his weapon of choice into the passage wall and unsheathes a knife to finish off T.J. Desperate, Sarah reaches for the Miner's mask and pulls it away, revealing not Harry Warden but Axel. The exposure temporarily causes Axel to pause as T.J. can only ask why. In a flashback we learn that Axel's father was one of the two supervisors that Harry Warden had murdered, witnessing the brutal act himself as a boy twenty years ago. The moment of reverie provides T.J. with the opportunity to knock back Axel into a couple of weakened supports, causing the condemned ventilation shaft to cave in. Sarah and T.J. escape through the entrance, but Axel does not follow.

Moments later, Chief Newby and the reinforcements catch up, along with Mayor Hanniger. T.J. tells them that the Miner was not Harry Warden, which the chief confirms. The call that came from Eastwood earlier revealed that Warden had died five years ago. Learning that it was Axel, Newby and Hanniger turn their attention to the ventilation shaft. The men search through the rubble and unearth Axel's moving arm. One of the miners declares loudly that he's still alive, which reaches Sarah. Despite his murderous rampage, she still has an emotional attachment to Axel and hurries back to see. Through a hole in the pile of debris those present witness Axel on the other side, one of his arms severed. It would appear that Axel deliberately hacked off the limb and as he escapes into the darkness, he angrily shouts, "Hanniger! I'll be waiting in Hell for you! [gasps, and cries desperately] Harry! Harry, I'm coming! [resumes shouting] This whole f**king town is going to die! I'm coming back, you bastards! [laughs maniacally] Sarah, be my bloody valentine..."

ah, nothing like a little childhood trauma to build character

"Harry! Harry, I'm coming!"

Well, I can certainly see why 'My Bloody Valentine' is such a slasher classic. The Miner definitely deserves a place among the likes of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. Especially the former, since both are so closely tied to their respective holidays. Frankly, I'm rather surprised that it didn't go on as a franchise like these other slashers. The ending certainly sets itself up for a possible sequel. In the long run, though, it's probably for the best that it didn't. If we've learned anything from the slasher sequels it's that they tend to go downhill. Anyway, the story was great, as were the Miner and his murders. I give it five out of five bloody valentines.

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